Quebec Landlords Introduce No Weed Clauses In Leases

July 1st, 2018 marks the day the drug will be legal, but landlords are taking steps to ban smoking and growing pot in units which fuels what will ultimately be a national debate

Under Quebec’s proposed marijuana law, residents will be allowed to use marijuana recreationally in their homes but won’t be permitted to grow cannabis for personal use. Many landlords have already sent notices to tenants informing them they won’t be allowed to smoke weed in their apartments. According to the CBC, landlords are introducing clauses and conditions to get a handle on what many, if not most, assume will be an emboldened and more casual approach to smoking pot.

Kevin Lebeau, a spokesperson for the Quebec Landlords Association, thinks most people find the odour and presence of marijuana unpleasant and believes landlords need to act in the best interest of all of their tenants – including many who he believes will be vehemently against it.

“It diminishes your enjoyment of your apartment. For some people it is a health issue and other people don’t want their children exposed to this at all.” -Kevin Lebeau

In a recent association poll, a majority of members anticipate a significant increase in tenant complaints. As a result, a comparable majority has also indicated they plan to prohibit smoking marijuana inside their buildings altogether. This has put them directly in conflict with various tenant rights groups across the province who are questioning whether the smoking prohibitions will be legal once marijuana itself is legalized. The tenants’ association of Sherbrooke, Que., argues that banning tenants from smoking marijuana inside their homes will be discriminatory after July 1st. Other tenant’s rights advocates argue that since they are paying for the apartment, they should be entitled to consume cannabis or cigarettes without fear of consequence. Any position to the contrary is discriminatory.

“The landlord doesn’t have the absolute right to do whatever he or she wants at any time.” – Kevin Wright, tenant’s rights advocate.

Opinion: Neither does the tenant

Here are the facts. As of right now, marijuana is nationally illegal. Most Canadians support legalization and regulation of what is widely perceived to be a generally benign substance that has been vilified and historically  mischaracterized in the media and by the government for decades. Many, if not most people, consider it something that has benefits for those who suffer and those same people, generally speaking, consider it to be a substance that is less harmful than alcohol and cigarettes, which are both legal and regulated, and have been for years.

There is no law preventing you from smoking or growing cannabis in a rented unit. If your consumption or growing of marijuana impedes the use or enjoyment of another tenant’s unit or creates an issue for the landlord themselves (the landlord reserves the right to have a preference for a smoke free building or unit), then there is a problem. The landlord can pursue a provincially supported judgement against the tenant or an eviction if that is the case, and they should have the right to do that.

We need to ask ourselves if anything is served by conveniently dismissing certain realities or creating false equivalencies when it comes to this issue. Societally, we appreciate the right to clean air, personal space, and health. That’s why we have laws when it comes to not smoking in restaurants, in cars with children, or on planes.

“Smoking” cannabis is defined as the inhalation of smoke or vapors released by heating the flowers, leaves, or extracts of cannabis and releasing the main psychoactive chemical, Δ9tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is absorbed into the bloodstream via the lungs. When you smoke weed, in most cases, the process is creating a smell. That smell comes from compounds made in the plant called terpenes or terpenoids. Not all weed stinks, but in the vast majority of cases, it will produce a noticeable scent. It can and often does, smell bad, and lingers in homes and apartments – much like cigarette smoke. It’s also a psychoactive substance. Exposure to the second hand smoke of cannabis is not exactly pleasant for anyone, kids or adults.

We put value on consideration and respect for other people’s rights to enjoying their environment and space. Why doesn’t that apply here? Because it is treated and increasingly categorized as a medicine for people? Because it is inevitably going to be legal? Because people have been unjustly jailed and discriminated against because of their weed habits? Because we feel people need to get over their own hang ups and misconceptions about a natural plant that has never been the cause of death when prescription drugs and booze kill more people in a day than weed ever has? Because the time is now to make people’s lives better with deserved access to something that will reduce suffering? All of the aforementioned might be true – but we got off topic pretty quickly there.

Alcohol is legal, however, if you were producing small batches of potato vodka out of your apartment without your landlord’s knowledge, and that process was impeding the enjoyment of the unit for others or created an elevation of fire risk or informed the environment in a way that was not in the interest of the owner (i.e. odour), would we be crying foul? What entitles us to do whatever we want in a rented apartment? If a landlord wants a smoke free environment, then why is that discriminatory? What is preventing people from smoking outside – like we ask them to do in most places like hospitals, libraries, or museums currently? You should be able to do whatever it is you like in a home you own, but when you’re renting, the landlord has a reasonable right to preserve the unit he is leasing to you and protect the interests and rights of the other people who do the same thing – because – they own the premises and assume most if not all of the risk. If you that doesn’t work for you, then you have the right to find a place that does.

 

Report Reveals Renting From Small Landlords Is Cheaper

Big news from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation! They released their Housing Market Insight report at the beginning of the month. Individual investors and private corporations own about 90 per cent of Canada’s purpose-built rental apartment units and most markets with a higher concentration of individual investors have lower average rents. In other words….Units owned by individual investors tend to have lower rents than units owned by other ownership types. This is most pronounced in smaller markets in Canada.

Individual Investors are defined as: all non-incorporated owners of rental housing stock, mainly comprised of individual investors and small joint ventures, representing 49.3% of the market.

Individual Investors are well-represented across all 35 metropolitan centres that were assessed as part of the report. The average rent associated with the units they own tends to be lower than the rent associated with other ownership types in most centres, including Montréal. However, the difference is generally smallest in centres with high overall rents, including Vancouver, Edmonton, Toronto and Halifax.

This isn’t really a surprise here. Smaller, private, non corporate landlords are better. It’s simple to see why.

They have a lot more to lose and generally rely on rental income as supplemental for retirement or for their daily lives. These kinds of landlords are exactly who we’ve created Renting Well for. Small landlords are like small businesses. Generally speaking, they have an interest in keeping tenants happy, ensuring that their units are in good shape, and have an inclination towards a more personalized approach. They have a tendency to be easier to contact and more often than not, they have a vested interest in avoiding turnover. Keeping tenants is cheaper than getting new ones. Even across the pond, english tenants were surveyed about satisfaction levels with their tenancies as part of the English Housing Survey 2015/2016. Tenants in the private rental sector were more satisfied with their accommodation than those in the social rented sector.

Landlords Have Legitimate Issues with Canada’s Half Baked Legislation

The Federal government didn’t bother to get into specifics on upcoming marijuana legislation.

The tabled cannabis law proposes allowing Canadians to grow 4 plants per person at home – whether they own or rent, provided the plants aren’t taller than 100 centimetres. It sounds benign when it’s framed as a new and progressive law – which in many ways it is – however the practical implications of the legislation are something that a growing number of national and provincial landlord groups aren’t happy with in the least. The government has not said if landlords will be able to prohibit tenants from growing pot in their apartments.

The Professional Property Managers Association and  The Canadian Federation of Apartment Associations are both looking to compel the government to change this aspect of the law. They both seek a ban on tenants growing plants in rented homes or multi-unit buildings. Full disclosure: we also support this change in the law as it is rooted in common sense. We touched on some of the complicated aspects of growing marijuana in a rented unit – particularly the insurance nightmare it has the capacity to create.

“I think the government is obviously balancing a lot of issues here. They do want to break the black market, and that’s important. But we think we can break the black market if they let people [only] grow it in their own owner-occupied homes, and the product is readily available in stores or by mail order.” -John Dickie, Canadian Federation of Apartment Associations

Optimal conditions for growing marijuana include warm temperatures, extensive lighting and high humidity. In order to grow weed, you need these three things. Creating the hydroponic conditions in a residence in an effort to achieve this key trifecta is not something you can do without affecting the domicile in some capacity. That’s just a fact. Water that is fed to plants will transpire and evaporate from the containers into the surrounding air. Cannabis plants also require warmth. Excess water vapour and high temperatures can create humidity damage. Large mold accumulations can follow and grow fast in humid environments and can lead to structural decay.

To boot, unusually high amounts of steam coming from vents in winter can damage exterior finishes on houses. The smell of weed seeps into drywall the same way tobacco smoke does, and even when it’s not being smoked, marijuana can create a permanent odour that can be repulsive to people – like other tenants and incoming ones in the future.

The electricity required for lighting in even a small cultivation of weed is high. It also introduces a fire concern with having that much botanical lighting in a house – and that’s assuming that a tenant doesn’t re-wire the electrical in a home (which they can’t do). Most wall outlets are on a 15-amp, 120 volt circuit. Many outlets are generally on that one circuit. One 1,000 watt metal halide or high pressure sodium light draws 9 amps at 120 volts. So just by using one of those plugged into a wall outlet, you have already significantly maxed your circuit – and that’s not taking into account the other devices, computers, or appliances that are also typically in a unit. Maxing a circuit is not a good thing. Your circuit breaker (if it’s working properly) may shut down your circuit because you’ve overloaded it. Your wiring may heat up, flame up, short out or otherwise fail. Lastly, there is an increased fire hazard danger due to people drying marijuana in a household stove.

Even four plants in a building can change the risk assessment on a property, and creates a greater likelihood of water damage, mould, fire, vandalism and burglary. Under most basic home insurance policies, marijuana-related damages or anything that companies believe is “high risk” is not covered. That view is shared by many insurance companies, according to the Insurance Bureau of Canada.

“Landlords currently have little recourse available if a tenant is growing medical marijuana and aren’t required to be told if it’s happening” -Avrom Charach, The Professional Property Managers Association

Under new federal rules introduced last August, landlords are left a little high and dry (no pun intended) if a tenant is growing licensed medical marijuana. They don’t even have the right to know it’s happening. None of that is right. The federal government should formally include a clause in the Cannabis Act including restrictions on any and all rented dwellings or they should at least mandate that provincial legislation needs to compensate for the loophole this creates.

 

 

Guys, You Should Tell Your Landlord If You’re Going To Grow Pot.

A grow-op, whether legal or not, is still a high-risk activity

In August of 2016, Health Canada expanded rules for medical marijuana patients through the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations. They were granted the right to access their cannabis three ways.

First – They can register with Health Canada to grow a “limited” amount of cannabis for their own medical purposes. Second – Designate someone else to grow it. If a patient is not healthy enough to grow their own, someone else can provided they pass a background check showing they haven’t been convicted of a drug offence in the last 10 years and aren’t growing for more than two people, themselves included. Third – Getting it from one of 34 Health Canada-approved producers — the only legal source under the current laws.

Seems great, right? Not really. At least not from the perspective of landlord and retired fire inspetor Darryl Spencer. Go Public at CBC News told his story in full force last week, shining a light on what is increasingly becoming a complicated issue.

Spencer has owned a rental property in Kamloops, B.C. for over 10 years. After receiving complaints from one of his tenants about radiating heat from the floor and electrical breakers tripping, he discovered his basement tenant’s legal (albeit scattered and poorly set up) grow set up. The tenant received a medical marijuana license, enabling him to grow up to 60 plants without the permission or knowledge of his landlord. After learning of the development, he disclosed to his insurance company that he had a legal set up for the plants supported by a license from the federal government. His reward? Losing his coverage and having his policy cancelled.

Since last year’s new rules, landlords have little to no recourse if a tenant is growing licensed medical marijuana. They don’t even have the right to know it’s happening. You read that right. Under most basic home insurance policies, marijuana-related damages or anything that companies believe is “high risk” is not covered. That view is shared by many insurance companies, according to the Insurance Bureau of Canada, since a greater likelihood of water damage, mould, fire, vandalism and burglary exists.

While regulations may allow for the legal growing of marijuana for medical purposes, it does not change the structural risk grow-ops pose to homes and condos – Andrew McGrath, Insurance Bureau of Canada

So in other words – a tenant’s privacy trumps the rights of a property owner – at least as far as the federal government is concerned. Besides being ridiculously short sighted and ill considered, to boot, the government is leaving it up to the municipalities to enforce whether the grow set ups are safe. The problem with that is federal privacy rules prevent local authorities from knowing where marijuana is being grown. There also is no system in place to proactively check if tenants are growing the allowed number of plants and following their permit.

The federal government’s role is to ensure people who need medical marijuana have access – Jane Phillpott, Health Minister

Two months after his policy was cancelled, Spencer ended up finding a new insurance company that specializes in domestic cannabis-operations. The coverage cost almost twice what he used to pay and has a much higher deductible. The story has a happy ending though.

Go Public contacted Gore Mutual, Spencer’s original insurance company. They offered to reinstate Spencer’s policy for almost the same amount he used to pay, to which Spencer took up.

 

What Is Up With Mayors and Mayor Hopefuls Piping Up About Landlords?

I don’t get it. Naheed Nenshi told Calgary’s landlords to be “ethical” last week and not gouge tenants. Ok fine. Now -Toronto mayoral hopeful Olivia Chow is on the campaign trail saying she’s going to introduce stiffer measures for bum landlords who don’t maintain their properties. Some of the things that bother her are broken light fixtures, peeling paint, and bedbugs.  It bothers her so much that she wants to create a city task force of sorts, that would issue display grades – much like they do for restaurants – on rental properties. Yeah because landlords in Ontario don’t have it tough enough already. Can anyone sense my sarcasm?

While negligent and reckless landlords should unreservedly be penalized and dealt with, I think it’s important to remember that Ontario (Ms. Chow is running for mayor of Toronto) is a province with legislation that is very tenant friendly. While the system isn’t perfect – it’s the one we have. Tenants have as many applications to make to the Ontario LTB as landlords do. They have remedies. The Ontario act is also very clear in terms of what landlords are required to do and what they’re required to provide. Every province – and as indicated this month on the blog, even every state  – is different. Toronto, and the greater province of Ontario, does not need yet another layer of bureaucracy or a grading system.

There are bad landlords. George Woolsey comes to mind. They’re not fair, they don’t follow the law, and they have little to no concern about your well being. Flop houses and housing environments that are hazardous and not suitable for residence need to be handled. Everyone is entitled to live in a habitable and safe environment – BUT – I don’t think this warrants an election plan from a mayoral hopeful. Just like Naheed NenshiOlivia Chow is suggesting that something needs to be done on a municipal level about this in Toronto.

Like with most things, there is always good and bad, but it’s important to remember that there are also bad tenants. I don’t think Ms. Chow is labelling all landlords as “bad”, but I think she’s proposing something on the election stump that has the capacity to indirectly just make it harder for the majority of landlords in Ontario that are reasonable, responsible, and solid. The only good laws are the ones that are balanced and strike harmony between all of the interests in the mix. As much as I strongly dislike some of the aspects of Ontario’s act, on it’s face, it’s generally balanced. It is however the epitome of a “second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth chance” kind of legislation and isn’t necessarily fair for landlords in many cases. It’s pretty easy to game the system and exploit a situation in the nation’s most populous province. Making money or even breaking even isn’t exactly easy here.

Mayors should be less concerned about trying to admonish landlords. That’s not their job…and there has to be an easier way to address properties not fit for habitation – if it’s in fact enough of a problem in Toronto that an elementary grading system needs to be introduced –  than making our job harder than it already is.

Questions? Comments? We wanna hear ’em!

 

Arkansas: Bad For Tenants…But Is It Good For Landlords?

The U.S. state of Arkansas was recently featured in an excellent Vice News piece on what tenants in Bill Clinton’s home pasture deal with when they rent. The piece – entitled “Arkansas” The Worst Place To Rent In America” – was a fascinating look into a place where the lack of laws regulating the rental market work backwards. As founders of a software that serves landlords – not really tenants – and as landlords ourselves, we’d be lying if we said we didn’t sympathize more with the plight of property owners renting out to tenants. As we’ve said before, it’s a thankless job most of the time. With that said, we’re also advocates of healthy and productive relationships between landlords and tenants. Relationships that are fair, follow the law in whatever province, state, or district you happen to be in, and that include methods and approaches that are reasonable and equitable.

Here’s a few key things in Arkansas. It’s the only state in the entire country that has no “implied warranty of habitability”. In english, that means landlords have no legal obligation to repair or maintain their properties – unless there was a written or oral agreement to fix something. It’s also the only state where you can be fined and jailed if you don’t pay your rent on time. Seriously. Here it is. To real estate investors – this could be perceived as an ideal place to invest your money. The existing law favours landlords heavily, and repossessing property there is fairly easy to do when tenants don’t pay rent. On the other side of the debate, a 3rd of Arkansas’ almost 3 million residents are renters, and a high percentage of those renters have serious concerns and issues with the properties they rent. Most renters are agreeing to take their units “as is”. By law – tenants are required to pay their rent no matter what – even if landlords don’t repair or maintain their buildings and units. Taking into account that Arkansas is the second poorest state in the U.S., and that 18% of the population live below the poverty line, this creates a situation where in arrears renters get swept up into the criminal justice system.

As a tenant, if you don’t pay your rent – even if your roof has holes in it and your windows are broken, not paying gives you 10 days to vacate. If you don’t – you could go to jail. Don’t bother contesting the order to vacate, because in the vast majority of cases, tenants don’t get the opportunity. The legal process for getting in front of a judge is convoluted by the black and white insistence of whether the money is owed, and if it is, for whatever reason that might be, you’re more likely to see the inside of a jail cell than a judge. The state’s unique “failure to vacate” law sees tenants charged as criminals purely on their landlords’ say-so, without any independent investigation by prosecutors. That’s why 90% of tenants who receive an order to vacate decide to just leave. It’s simply a criminal issue immediately. To boot – Arkansas is one of only 10 states that don’t prohibit retaliatory eviction. For the uninitiated – retaliatory eviction is when the landlord doesn’t like something you’ve done..like the reporting of a health or building code violation…and wants you out of the unit. So, in short – if you’re landlord doesn’t like your face, you can be evicted. If you make a complaint, you can be evicted. If your landlord simply wants you out of the unit, and you’ve been paying on time – they can rip up a good check or make themselves conveniently unavailable to accept cash from you on whatever agreed upon date, and you’d technically be evictable.

The Non-Legislative Commission on the Study of Landlord-Tenant Laws, created in 2011 by the state legislature, released a report on Dec. 31st, 2013 that recommended 15 tenant-landlord law reforms. Lynn Foster, professor at the William H. Bowen School of Law at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and a member of the study commission, said, “If you’re on a month to month lease, maybe it says the landlord makes repairs, maybe it doesn’t — but if you report something to code, the first thing the landlord is going to do is try and evict you. That’s why it’s imperative that if we adopt a warranty of habitability, we also adopt a statute prohibiting retaliatory eviction.”

Human Rights Watch, an organization that follows rights violations worldwide, issued a report in 2013 called “Pay the Rent or Face Arrest: Abusive Impacts of Arkansas’s Draconian Evictions Law.”

This is all a far cry from some of the provinces and states that have laws that in some cases favour tenants. Good laws achieve as much of a possible balance possible between the obligations of providing habitable and functional dwelling to people paying for them while also protecting the landlord’s rights and property. The lack of this in Arkansas has police being involved with evicting people for not paying their rent – an almost ridiculous waste of that resource – and people who don’t pay their rent for whatever reason in many cases entering the criminal justice system.

What do you think? Are you an Arkansas landlord? Are you an Arkansas tenant? Share your thoughts with us.

Home Insurance Industry Kicks Montreal Landlord To The Curb After Repair

Montreal property owner Sari Buksner is in the midst of a nightmare of sorts, courtesy of her insurance company, and she’s yet to wake up from it.

Back in 2012, one of her tenants alerted her to a leak dripping from the second floor to the first. Her insurance firm saw the problem was a valve linking to her water heater on the second floor. They also proactively noticed a completely separate leak, near the toilet of her third floor. The estimate on the repair work for both claims originally came in at a little under 20K.

According to the original CBC News piece, Buksner said she settled with a contractor recommended by the insurance company after the first one she found declined the job, indicating it was beyond their capabilities. Once she started with the recommended contractor from the insurance company, the work began, and unexpectedly continued for months. Some of the reasons for this included a lack of proper insulation for the new pipes, which froze, creating an even bigger issue than the initial leaks. A rip up was required, and a complete re-do of the work – as in new pipes, gyproc, drywall, painting, etc. etc. The initial $20K that was speculated turned into a little under $87,000 in construction/renovation costs. On top of this – the insurance company paid her $58,155.00 in lost rental income while the work was taking place. The total payout to Buksner was about $145,000. Whoa.

After the work was done, her insurance company decided not to renew her policy – something that insurance companies have the right to do.

So far, she has only found a willing insurer in the substandard market, and that policy would cost her around $11,000, roughly $4,000 more than what she was last paying, per year. Adding insult to injury, she’d be required to pay the whole thing up front and wouldn’t receive water damage protection. Jesus.

Thoughts? Comments? From personal experience, water damage claims aren’t exactly a cakewalk. Here’s another kicker – water damage claims are on the rise in Canada.

 

 

Yukon’s Landlords Get A Break

Landlords in Yukon got a break recently with a decision by the government to cancel a 13 million dollar affordable rental housing program in what is already a highly crowded rental market.

Terry Bergen of the Yukon Real Estate Association says there are currently at least 4,000 rental suites in Whitehorse. In a city that has less than 28,000 people as of the 2013 census, that’s a helluva lot of rental units. Like a lot.

Check out the story on CBC here. You can also learn a bit of the backstory here.

Professional Tenants Need To Pay Or They’re Going To The Big House

Last month…we talked about Susan and Chris Perret, the notoriously terrible tenants who have been professionally squeezing a bunch of B.C. landlords.

On April 28, a judge in Port Coquitlam small claims court ordered Susan and Chris Perret to repay $6,000 to former landlord Suman Parasad by June 9, or go to jail.

Parasad was the first landlord to take the Perrets to small claims court over unpaid rent, claiming the pair racked up almost $8,000 in arrears in 2013.

Two more landlords have since contacted the CBC to say they have been the victim of the Perrets’ apparent scam. That’s a grand total of eight landlords who are now working together to fight back as a group.

Landlord Sues Grow Op Operators For Destroying The Place!

A landlord in Calgary is suing former tenants for $105,000 after police discovered a grow-op in the rental property in 2011, which caused extensive damage to the house. David Gin and Michelle Chen were charged, but only Chen was convicted, sentenced, and ordered to pay restitution to landlord Steve Habbi.

“I came home from work and saw basically a police raid in action,” Habbi said. “People in bio suits and bullet-proof vests and guns and things like this, which was really surprising to me … How do people who seem so friendly to your face run something like that?”

Here’s a shocker. Habbi had checked the pair’s references when they first moved in and those all checked out, including Gin’s job as a tax auditor with the Canada Revenue Agency.

200 potted cannabis plants were removed from the property – each with an estimated street value of about $1250 each. If you do the math – that’s $250 grand. The couple had about 100 U.V. lamps in basement bedrooms. The system was set up so that it was being vented inside the house, which expedites the cultivation of mold.

Chen and Gin were charged with possession of a controlled substance for the purpose of trafficking, production of a controlled substance, theft of water and electricity and mischief. More than a year later, in November 2013, Chen pleaded guilty to production of a controlled substance and charges against Gin were withdrawn.

Chen was given an 18-month conditional sentence to be served in the community under strict conditions and was also ordered to pay $10,000 in restitution. When Habbi argued the damages he incurred were well above the restitution amount, he says the Crown told him to sue the couple.

The case is ongoing, and Gin and Chen have yet to file a statement of defense. Steve Habbi has some advice for other landlords, though…

“Mandate in your lease that you will be doing physical home inspections on the interior of the property,” he said. “Your only hope is to deter them from coming into your property.”

Couldn’t agree more, Steve!